‘The Quay Brothers: Collected Short Films’
Christopher Nolan has done a noble deed: He’s used his considerable sway over fanboys to get them to at least consider watching some out-there avant-garde animation. Even if you don’t like the former Batman director’s work, you have to tip your hat to his recent shilling for Timothy and Stephen Quay, aka the Brothers Quay — masters of puppets and moods, whose reliably striking and unnerving work has long haunted the fringes of the mainstream.
Occasionally the Quays have sneaked onto MTV — as in a segment of Peter Gabriel’s beloved “Sledgehammer” video — or simply inspired others. (Some assume they helmed Tool’s creepy, aggro videos, but they’re just knockoffs.) But more often than not they’re content to hang in their own remote domains, much as their creatures stew in shadowy zones, far away from the things of man.
Classic Quays — like 1985’s “The Unnameable Little Broom (or the Epic of Gilgamesh)” and their most signature film, 1986’s “Street of Crocodiles” — show sad, forgotten objects rooting around in obscure, inscrutable worlds that teem with dust and grime and decay. They resist narrative, instead enveloping you in places from which it’s hard to escape, even when they end.
Fifteen of their works make it into the new set “The Quay Brothers: Collected Short Films,” only the latest of many collections over the years, and the first to feature ruminative commentary tracks (on six of them) and some of their more recent movies. (It also features “Quay,” Nolan’s 10-minute doc, which hangs with them in their cluttered, musty studio loft.)
The Quays were born in the Philadelphia region but moved to Europe in the ’70s, where they’ve stayed and where they’ve gained unplaceable Euro-American accents. (They returned in 2010 to make “Through the Weeping Glass,” about the most Quay place in the world: the Mutter Museum, the world’s premiere house for medical anomalies.) They’re between worlds, and so are their films. Every inch of each movie fetishizes all things Old Europe, from the aging and often broken objects (dolls, toys, knickknacks) that populate their work to a yen for writers like Bruno Schulz. Even the title fonts keep up the mood, often done as unreadable calligraphy that favors style over clarity.